Remembering Liberto Pechet, Nobel Prize Winners for Study of DNA Repair, and more

Liberto Pechet, MD (1926-2015)

Liberto Pechet, MD, passed away September 16, 2015, after a brief illness. He is remembered as a father, hematologist, educator, researcher, and helper to those in need. Born in Romania, Dr. Pechet graduated in 1952 from Hadassah Medical School Hebrew University Jerusalem, Israel, before immigrating to the United States in 1957. As a physician with over 60 years of experience, Dr. Pechet was employed at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester and St. Vincent’s Hospital (both in Worcester, Massachusetts), the University of Colorado/Veterans Hospital in Denver, and Harvard University and Beth Israel Hospital (both in Boston, Massachusetts). During his career, he served as a co-author of Wallach’s Interpretation of Diagnostic Tests and published articles in Blood, The New England Journal of Medicine, Thrombosis Research, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Pechet is survived by his wife, Giselle Solomovitz, their two daughters, and their granddaughter.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to Three Scientists for Mechanistic Studies of DNA Repair

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists for their work in the mechanistic studies of DNA repair:

  • Tomas Lindahl, FRS, FMedSci, Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, for discovering base excision repair, the molecular machinery that constantly counteracts the collapse of our DNA.
  • Paul Modrich, MD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, for mapping nucleotide excision repair, the mechanism that cells use to repair UV damage to DNA.
  • Aziz Sancar, MD, PhD, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for demonstrating mismatch repair, the mechanism through which the cell corrects errors that occur when DNA is replicated during cell division.

Together, Drs. Lindahl, Modrich, and Sancar’s research demonstrates how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information at a molecular level. “Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments,” according to a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Source: Nobel Prize/Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences press release, October 8, 2015.

Thomas LeBlanc Receives Sojourns Award for Palliative Care Project

Thomas LeBlanc, MD, assistant professor of medicine in Hematological Malignancies and Cellular Therapy at Duke University School of Medicine, has received a two-year, $180,000 grant from the Cambia Health Foundation as part of its annual Sojourns Scholar Leadership Program. The grant will support his work in improving the integration of palliative care into blood cancer care. Dr. LeBlanc is one of 10 recipients of these awards, which promote palliative care workforce development by funding research, clinical, educational, or policy projects. Other grants are supporting research in emergency medical communication in palliative care, nurse competency in advanced care planning, and communication with parents of pediatric patients.

Source: Duke University press release, September 2, 2015.

UT Southwestern Cancer Researchers Receive $11.7 Million in NCI Outstanding Investigator Awards

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded $11.7 million in NCI Outstanding Investigator awards to Michael White, MD, professor of cell biology, and Joshua Mendell, MD, PhD, professor of molecular biology, both researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. Both awards provide seven years of funding to allow the recipients to pursue high-risk/high-reward projects.

Dr. White, who studies personalized cancer therapies, received more than $6.5 million for his work to identify biomarkers that can help personalize therapy by identifying patients who might respond best to certain treatments. “With this new research support, we will identify effective intervention targets that are required for tumor formation in diverse genetic backgrounds, develop lead compounds that inactivate these targets, and determine features that allow detection of the presence of these targets in patients,” he said in a press release.

Dr. Mendell, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator who studies biologic mechanisms involved in cancer, received $5.1 million for his lab’s investigation into how a class of genes that produce noncoding RNAs contributes to cancer. “A better understanding of noncoding RNAs and the cellular mechanisms they control may one day lead to the development of new anti-cancer therapies,” Dr. Mendell said.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center press release, September 11, 2015.

Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Research Director Wins $6.3-Million Outstanding Investigator Award

Hartmut Land, PhD, director of research and co-director at University of Rochester Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute in New York, has received a $6.3-million Outstanding Investigator Award from the NCI, which will provide Dr. Land with seven years of uninterrupted funding to pursue long-term projects. With this funding, Dr. Land will continue to test his hypothesis that different cancers have many shared features, and understanding the common characteristics among diverse types of cancer might unlock the next generation of targeted treatments.

Source: University of Rochester Medical Center press release, September 17, 2015.

FDA Awards Grants to Stimulate Development of Orphan Drugs for Rare Diseases

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has awarded 18 new research grants totaling more than $19 million to boost the development of products for patients with rare diseases through its Orphan Products Grants Program. These grants are intended for clinical studies evaluating the safety and effectiveness of products that could either result in, or substantially contribute to, the FDA approval of products.

There are three hematology researchers among the eighteen grant recipients:

  • Deepa Manwani, MD, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, New York, will receive $1.6 million over four years for the “Phase 2 Study of Gamunex (Intravenous Gammaglobulin) for the Treatment of Sickle Cell Acute Pain”
  • Suzanne Lentzsch, MD, PhD, from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, New York, will receive $600,000 over three years for the “Phase 1A/B Study of 11-1F4 mAb for the Treatment of AL Amyloidosis”
  • Claudia Morris, MD, from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, will receive $1.6 million over four years for the “Phase 2 Study of L-Arginine Therapy for the Treatment of Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease Pain”

“The FDA is in a unique position to help those who suffer from rare diseases by offering important incentives to promote the development of products, one of which is our grants program,” said Gayatri R. Rao, MD, JD, director of the FDA’s Office of Orphan Product Development, in a press release. “The grants awarded this year support much-needed research in 17 different rare diseases, many of which have little, or no, available treatment options.”

Source: U.S. FDA press release, September 21, 2015.

MACC Fund Names Jeffrey Medin Endowed Professor 

Jeffrey A. Medin, PhD, has been named the MACC Fund Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dr. Medin currently serves as a professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics and the Institute of Medical Science, faculty of medicine, at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. At MCW, Dr. Medin will serve as vice chair of research innovation for the Department of Pediatrics, and research director within the Section of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, where he is expected to expand the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Transplant Program. Dr. Medin will also serve as director of cell processing laboratories in the MCW Adult and Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, with
appointments in the MCW Cancer Center and the BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s Blood Research Institute.

Previously, Dr. Medin was employed with the National Institutes of Health, where he focused on gene transcription and gene therapy, and as assistant professor of medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Medin will assume his full duties
on January 1, 2016.

Source: MACC Fund press release, September 24, 2015.

James Bradner Named President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research 

James E. Bradner, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, has been appointed president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) and a member of the Executive Committee of Novartis, effective March 1, 2016. Dr. Bradner is currently associate professor in the Department of Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School, where he has been on the faculty since 2005. Dr. Bradner has co-authored more than 130 scientific publications and 30 United States Patent applications.

Dr. Bradner succeeds Mark C. Fishman, MD, who spent 13 years as leader of Novartis’ drug discovery and early clinical development efforts.

Source: Novartis press release, September 24, 2015.

CMS Awards $685 Million to 39 Health-Care Organizations for Innovative Clinical Practice 

As part of its Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center is awarding $685 million to 39 physician groups, health systems, and other organizations for training, education, and investment in information technology, care coordination, and quality improvement efforts. The grants are funded under the Affordable Care Act and are expected to provide assistance to as many as 140,000 clinicians.

“Supporting doctors and other health-care professionals [in changing] the way they work is critical to improving quality and spending our health-care dollars more wisely,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. “These awards will give patients more of the information they need to make informed decisions about their care and give clinicians access to information and support to improve care coordination and quality outcomes.”

These awards will support 29 medical group practices, regional health-care systems, and regional extension centers in offering peer-to-peer support to primary and specialty physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical pharmacists, and their practices.

These efforts include:

  • Helping providers give patients better tools for communication through e-mails and other information technology applications
  • Providing dedicated coaches to help practices better manage chronic disease and offer preventive care
  • Offering real-time notification alerts for clinicians caring for high-risk patients
  • Centralizing data reporting and providing technical assistance with quality improvement targets and mid-course corrections

In addition, 10 national organizations and health-care professional associations will receive up to $27 million to:

  • Align clinical practice guidelines across multiple medical specialties and disseminate those findings through well-established communications channels
  • Offer Continuing Medical Education credit to clinicians to support transformation efforts and ensure that coordinated education programs are offered to participating clinicians
  • Share best practices and provide technical assistance and coaching to their members that may be struggling with how to participate in emerging alternative payment models
  • Provide educational materials and access to registry data information, including training on how to use the data to improve care Recipients include the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Radiology, the National Rural Accountable Care Consortium, the American Board of Family Medicine, and the National Nursing Centers Consortium.

For a full list of award recipients, visit

Sources: CMS news release, September 29, 2015; HHS news release, September 29, 2015.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Names Douglas Graham New Cancer Center Director

Douglas Graham, MD, PhD, has been appointed director of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Graham will replace William G. Woods, MD, who served as the center’s director and as chief of hematology/oncology/bone marrow transplantation in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University for 15 years. Dr. Graham, a National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded investigator focusing on developing novel therapeutics for pediatric cancer, is a member of the Senior Leadership Council of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. He comes to the Aflac Cancer Center having previously served as professor of pediatrics and immunology at the University of Colorado, with clinical
practice at Children’s Hospital Colorado. He was also the co-program leader of the Hematologic Malignancy Program at the University of Colorado, an NCI-designated cancer center.

Source: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta press release, September 30, 2015.